January 17, 2006


by Francis Davis

A sweet tribute and a pleasant interlude, this slender volume presents an extended interview with Pauline Kael. More accurately, it's the record of a conversation between Davis and Kael, old friends meeting and talking but always aware that Kael's illness meant this might well be their last good talk. Kael is lively and blunt as ever, and it's great to have even a sentence or two about the recent films she'd seen since Parkinson's forced her to give up reviewing.

Kael's influence on film criticism is obvious, but her influence on the broader culture needs, I think, a fresh and considered examination. On one hand, you could argue that she was a talented writer with a visible, influential job. But she may have been much more: in approaching all kinds of media, today, we're all either Paulettes or self-consciously reactionary essentialists. We start by asking, "Am I responding to this?", without regard to whether we're looking at pop or punk, whether we're reading a novel or witnessing performance art, and the canon is just a component of that response. Or, we force ourselves to start from the nature of the medium. But after Kael, we have to force ourselves; before, I think, it seemed natural. Determining whether Kael's role here is as central as now it seems will require some patient scholarship and some prudent judgment.